Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Lemon-Orange Meringue Pie

I have to admit- I'm not typically a very good pie baker but I did pretty good with this one. I am planning on taking it to my family's Easter dinner. Ok, it's not totally from scratch; I use a Pillsbury Pie crust. The filling and meringue, though, are my own. The filling is derived from an old Southern recipe for Ambrosia cake. The filling on this cake makes a perfect pie filling.

Filling Recipe:

1 cup sugar

3 tbsp cornstarch

1/4 tsp salt

3/4 c orange juice

1/4 c lemon juice

1/2 c water

3 egg yolks , beaten

1 tbsp grated orange peel

Mix the sugar, cornstarch and salt in a sauce pan. With medium heat, add both juices and water, stirring constantly until it bubbles and thickens. Temper the eggs by adding a little bit of the hot mixture into the eggs. Add egg mixture into pan and boil slowly for 1 minute. Add orange zest.

Prebake the pie crust,making sure to dock the dough before it bakes. 350 for 11 minutes.

Add filling into pie crust.


4 egg whites or 3/4 cup prepared egg whites

2 tbsp sugar

pinch cream of tartar

Whip the meringue until it forms firm peaks-about 10-15 minutes. Pour on top of filling and bake for 6 minutes at 325.

Chemistry of Meringues:

Meringues ( or egg foams) come from the whites of eggs. Egg whites contain four proteins: ovalbumin, conalbumin, globulin, and lysozyme. Proteins form tough networks of tissue- that's why they build muscle in animals. These protein networks are not as stable as we would like in baking. They form and they break apart again- kind of like playing the block game "Jinga". The lower the pH of these proteins, the more stablilized they are. Low pH means the environment is acidic. By adding cream of tartar ( mixture of tartaric acid and cornstarch ), the pH is lowered and your meringue will stay put. Any acid will lower the pH ( vinegar, citric fruit juice) but these acids can make your meringue taste sour. Cream of tartar powder has no noticeable taste in the meringue.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Banana Pudding Cupcakes

I'm from the South where no family reunion or summer get-together is complete without the standard go-to dessert. Yes, I'm talking about banana pudding. As a kid I could eat 1/2 casserole dish of the stuff. It's creamy, slightly sweet , crunchy from the Nila wafers and the bananas let you convince yourself and your parents that it's good for you.

Our banana pudding was made from Jell-O Vanilla Pudding, sliced bananas and topped with crumbs of Nila wafers. Every family has their own version of this. My elementary school best friend's Mom lined the bottom with whole vanilla wafers, giving it a cheesecake or tart like look.

Anyways, I've been on this cupcake baking frenzy for weeks now. I've been buying up different types of cake mix and a variety of frostings along with every kind of extract you can think of to spend relaxing evenings after school inventing new cupcake concoctions. I accidentally came up with the banana pudding cupcake. I was initially striving to make a pina-colada cupcake and this thing came out. I'm glad it did because I ate the entire batch ( my husband might have got a few too ) for breakfast, lunch, snack and dessert after dinner.

Make a batch for yourself and let me know what you think.

Banana Pudding Cupcakes ( yields 26 )

Ingredients for batter:

1 box of Pillsbury Pudding in the box, yellow cake mix

3 eggs

1/3 vegetable oil

1 cup of Pina Colada Mix

1 tsp banana extract

2 1/2 small bananas, over-ripened, diced very small

Ingredients for frosting:

1 container whipped white icing

1 tsp banana extract

1 banana, diced

Nila wafers

Slowly combine the cake mix with remaining batter ingredients. Over mixing will prevent the cupcakes from getting light and airey.

Line muffin tin with cup cake liners.

Pour in batter until 2/3 full.

Bake at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes, until golden on top.

Let cook in pan for about 5 minutes then cool entirely on cookie rack.

Frost the cupcakes, topping each one with a Nila wafer. On a covered cake pedestal, cupcakes will keep for about 5-7 days.

Chemistry of Extracts:
Banana extract, aka isoamyl acetate, is a member of the organic chemical family known as esters. Esters can be made by combining an organic acid ( like vinegar) with an alcohol and then gently heating it. Concentrated sulfuric acid is added as a catalyst. This is not an experiment to be conducted in the kitchen but we do perform simple ester synthesis reactions in my chemistry class. So what is an ester? Any item that has been scented or flavored has had esters added to it. They are in food, candles, dryer sheets etc. Extracts can really bump a tired old dessert to a new level.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Bake Sale Blondies

I had never heard of Blondies until I saw the movie "Nancy Drew" with Emma Roberts. They looked so good on TV that I began a mission to find a recipe. No one my age or younger has really been exposed to this tempting baked confection. Blondies are like a brownie, except that cocoa powder has been left out and it is a little less dense. It's always gooey coming out of the oven but left to cool it's like a cookie-cake. You can add any of your favorite nuts, chocolates, peanut butter chips, and coconut.

Since finding out my Science Olympiad team was without funds this school year, I began raising money by selling my blondies to ravenous teenagers at school. Originally I made these with coconut flakes, macadamia nuts and white chocolate chips. The students began putting in requests for different ingredients. Hey, supply and demand--give the customers what they want. So I did. My best-selling blondie is the Peanut Butter & Chocolate Blondie. They are rich, extra sweet, addictive, and almost like a meal.

I still get personal requests for my Blondies but I am so busy these days with school work and my husband's relocation that I can't seem to find the time. Give them a try and let me know how you like them.

* Blondie Dough adapted from " Taste of Home's Contest Winning Annual Recipes".

Wet Ingredients:
1/2 c butter, softened
3/4 c fine white sugar
3/4 cu light brown sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp pure vanilla extract

Dry Ingredients:
1 1/2 c all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp kosher salt

Extra Add-Ons

1/3 bag peanut butter chips
1/3 bag chunky semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/3 bag white chocolate chips
Semi-Sweet Chocolate chips, for topping

Beat butter and sugars until sugar has dissolved into the butter, you can tell because it's not grainy.
Add eggs and vanilla. Beat on slow to medium speed until creamy & bright yellow.
Note: It's better to underbeat than overbeat this dough.
Slowly mix in dry ingredients, spoonful by spoonful. Each time wait until the dry ingredients have mixed in before adding more. The dough will get tough if you don't.
After the dry has been thoroughly mixed with the wet, add the Peanut butter chips, Chunky chocolate chips and white chocolate chips until evenly dispersed.

Scrape dough into a buttered baking dish. I like to use a round gratin casserole dish. Smooth it out until its even. Top with chocolate chips.

Bake at 350 for 30 minutes or until the top is light brown. It will be gooey so let it cool in the dish completely before trying to cut it.

Because I can usually only bake at night, I let it sit out until morning then cut it into pie slices.

I have no idea how long they will stay good. They're gone by 3rd period that day.

Where's the Chemistry? Actually its everywhere in this recipe: the baking powder and salt give it volume, texture and flavor, the softened butter is warm enough to get the sugars to dissolve. Undissolved sugar in a recipe, carmelizes and hardens, making it one tough cookie! : )

Give 'em a try!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Greek Orzo Pasta Salad

I discovered orzo pasta just a few years ago after watching Everyday Italian. Orzo is a small spherical shaped pasta that looks a lot like rice. In fact, I made this salad for some of my husband's co-workers and I could never convince them that it was pasta and not rice. Oh well, as long as they liked it.

This salad is my go to recipe for potluck dinners and cross-state holiday travel. I usually bring this to family Memorial Day, 4th of July and Labor Day get togethers. It travels very well and if it's made the day before, all the better. The flavors of the ingredients really come together after sitting a day or so.

You can serve cold, room temperature or warm. I prefer just slightly warmed than room temperature but not enough to melt the cheese. I hope you give this one a try.


1/2 bag orzo

1/2 pint grape tomatoes, halved

1 large can of extra large black olives, pitted and halved

1 small red onion, diced

1 handful flat-leaf parsley, chopped

1/2 - 1/3 cup shredded parmesan cheese

1 block of feta cheese, crumbled

Sea salt , to taste

Pepper, freshly ground to taste

Olive oil, for drizzling

* All purpose balsamic vinaigrette

Boil 1/2 stock pot of H2O

Add handful of sea salt.

Boil pasta until al dente ( slightly chewy, definitely not mushy)

Drain, let cool in colander to room temperature. Do Not Rinse.

Toss pasta in a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.

In a large salad or serving bowl, Add remaining ingredients to pasta, toss.

Drizzle in Balsamic Vinaigrette until it thoroughly coasts everything but doesn't collect at the bottom of the bowl.

Ready to serve or store in fridge.

Next day preparation- microwave to warm. Serve at room temperature or slightly warm.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The All-Purpose Balsamic Vinaigrette

My very first " invented all on my own" recipe was nothing big- it was simple vinaigette. Years ago I was the type of cook who thought she had to follow given recipes in order to cook. I guess I didn't have the confidence to invent something on my own. Well, it was back in the day when I first moved to Nashville and had lots of free time during the summers that I began working on this recipe. My husband and I had been to TGI Friday's and they had this wonderful basalmic syrup they drizzled over some bread as an appetizer. I was determined to make this syrup. I wasn't so good at it - it needed something so I added olive oil. I thought, oh wow, this would make a good topper for salads.

Some time later I had cut some warm chicken breast in with my romaine salad- the vinaigrette was too cold! I heated it up- yummy. The mix of romaine, parmesan, warm grilled chicken and a warm dressing was true comfort food. I soon began experimenting with seasoning and extras to add to the dressing. Over the course of a few years, the following is the result:

1/2 cup aged balsamic vinegar

2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 medium shallot, diced

2 tsp ( or to taste) sea salt

freshly ground pepper to taste

2 tsp tarragon, dried or fresh

2 packets of splenda or 2 tsps sugar

Saute shallot in olive oil until lightly brown. Remove from heat and slowly add balsamic vinegar. Add remaining ingredients and simmer with cover barely off. I let mine simmer for 5-10 minutes and then adjust for taste.

I use this dressing for all salads, including my Greek orzo pasta salad ( to be published in an upcoming blog), and as a marinade for my steaks and chicken breasts to be grilled. I also like to drizzle some onto my grilled chicken breasts.

The Chemistry: All vinegars contain acetic acid, which gives that wonderful tang. Balance that tang with olive oil for depth and a sugar ( honey, white sugar or splenda ) for sweetness. I like my dressing to be less oily but also more sweet than tangy so I sometimes use less oil and reduce it down quite a bit on the stove top. Aged Balsamic Vinegar has a lot more depth since it sits a lot longer before being bottled. Flavored vinegar-based dressings make nice marinades but the acetic acid will break up the proteins in the meats, making it more tender.

I hope you try it.